The Dulcimer – The Beginner’s Guide
The dulcimer, also known as a mandolin, has been around for hundreds of years, and it is often passed down from generation to generation. It is often given as a wedding present, since the sound of this distinctive musical instrument is both familiar and beautiful. The dulcimer can be found in almost any music store, as well as many websites specializing in vintage instruments.
The dulcimer, also called the Appalachian dulcimer, is a fretted, single-string acoustic guitar of the roundwood family, usually played on the Appalachian hillside or in rural areas. The body of this instrument is short, just reaching up to the eye’s level. The fretboard, which is usually made of wood, extends the entire length of the arm, and its tuning is normally in diatonic mode. The instrument produces a distinctive “whistling” sound when it is being played. Though the diatonic sound is clear and powerful, it also has a warm quality to it.
Another name for the mountain dulcimer music instrument is the chokkikid. The chokkid is similar to the mellophone, but it does not have the deeper tone that is associated with either the mellophone or the electric guitar. These instruments are quite popular with Indian music, particularly since they produce a sweet sound. In fact, the chokkid has even become somewhat of a signature instrument for Indian musicians.
Like many acoustic musical instruments, the Appalachian dulcimer has a few different tuning pegs to make it different from other guitars and basses. These tuning pegs are usually labeled A, G, C, or F. (pronounced “fesh-tuss”) The reason these particular tuning pegs are used is so that the dulcimer can be classified according to its tailpiece, which is the wooden spindle that connects the two strings. Most dulcimers have three tails, while some have only two. The difference is typically a half-inch each way, with the exception of some older models that may have one extra tail peg. Regardless, all dulcimers will have three empty tuning pins, each holding a single string.
The tuning of this instrument is fairly simple, even though it can be quite time consuming to learn. The strings are placed on one hand between the index finger and thumb of the same hand. This creates a looping action that draws the string back towards the headstock until the other fingers catch hold of it and pull it back out of this loop. The dulcimer’s other two strings are then held by this same loop, with each having a slightly different distance from the next in terms of frets.
In addition to the basic dulcimer design, many versions of this instrument have been created with additional features. Some, such as those found in some hand tuned instruments, have hammers. While hammers help create the same dulcimer playing experience as when using fingers, they also add a unique and distinctive tone to the instrument. For example, the dulcimers that have hammers fitted to their ends do not only play a higher range than most strings on a guitar, but also do so without the ringing that can be common with other string instruments without hammers. This is an important distinction, as most guitar players are used to hearing the “thumping” sounds that high pitched hammers create.
Other versions of the dulcimer have been made with additional hardware to make them more attractive to players. For example, some versions have ornate designs on the soundboard itself. The jewel encrusted designs, as well as the extra wood that some of these instruments are made with, give these instruments an attractive and appealing appearance. The jewel encrusted designs are especially popular among players who prefer not to use the wooden tuning pins, because they are afraid of damaging them.
The dulcimer, whether played by hand or on an instrument, is an essential part of any repertoire. Most professional musicians own at least one dulcimer, as they can be used to play a wide variety of music genres. Additionally, many santurists master playing the dulcimer, so it is often thought of as one of the more versatile musical instruments. Of course, even with santurists involved, the dulcimer can still be very flexible and useful, making it an excellent choice for beginners to learn how to play. Whether your goals are of an easy to play dulcimer, or you prefer to play a wide variety of different types of music, a dulcimer can make learning how to play this instrument fun and exciting.